Monday, May 15, 2017

Aquatic Ecology with Shepherd Elementary students

Last week I spent two days at the Little Salt River with students from Shepherd Elementary students. 

Why were we at the river? 

The students were collecting and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates. 

Shepherd 5th graders use a dip net to sample aquatic macroinvertebrates from the Little Salt River

What exactly is an aquatic macroinvertebrate? 

Let's break that into parts.  Aquatic means that a plant or animal lives in or around water.  It comes from the Latin word aqua which means "water".  The word invertebrate comes from the Latin root word vertebra which means "joint" - normally refering to the joints of the spine.  Invertebrate means that an animal lacks a spine.  The prefix macro- means large or large scale.  It comes from the Greek word makros meaning "large or long".  Therefore, a macroinvertebrate is a large animal that lacks a spine - large in the sense that it is big enough to see without magnification.  Add it all together and an aquatic macroinvertebrate is an animal that lives in water, lacks a spine, and is large enough to see with the naked eye.

This crayfish is an aquatic macroinvertebrate.

So is this gilled snail.

Why were students trying to collect aquatic macroinvertebrates?

Many aquatic macroinvertebrate species have varying tolerances for water pollution.  The absence of certain species may indicate low water quality.  The presence of a wide range of species usually indicates higher water quality.

Students complete a biological monitoring sheet to determine water quality

Overall the students found a wide variety of aquatic macroinvertebrates including mayfly larvae, caddisfly larvae, gilled and pouch snails, damselfly larvae, dragonfly larvae, scuds or amphipods, crayfish, freshwater clams and mussels, leaches, and midge larvae.  Vertebrate lifeforms collected included fish and tadpoles.  The wide variety (and number) of animals collected indicated that at this site, the Little Salt River has excellent water quality.

Here are a few more photos of the students sampling...

There is one thing that I want you to notice about the students in these photos.  In every single photo, the students are completely engrossed in their task.  If anyone tells you that students don't enjoy science, it's simply not true.  Kids love science especially real, meaningful science like these students are engaged in.  It's pretty amazing to go through an hour and never have to remind students to remain on task.  These are not students from a science academy.  This is not an advanced class full of "smart" kids.  These are normal kids with varying academic abilities and they all rock at science when give a task that interests them.

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